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Militants try to tighten their grip in Iraq, Syria

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 2, 2014 at 4:43 pm •  Published: July 2, 2014
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Al-Maliki did not directly address calls to step down, but he did say the focus should be on turning back the militants — and not political changes.

"The priority today in the battle is security and the security challenges and the plots being formed by the terrorist organizations leaning on a sectarian program. The battle today is first before everything," he said. "It is a battle for security, a battle to protect Iraq, and Iraq's unity and identity, and the identity of the public and their security and economy."

The new parliament met Tuesday for the first time since April's elections amid hopes for the swift formation of a government. But lawmakers deadlocked less than two hours into the meeting, and Sunnis and Kurds walked out.

Al-Maliki acknowledged the failure of the first session, but expressed hope for a quick resolution when parliament meets next week.

"God willing, in the next session, we will overcome it through cooperation and openness and reality in choosing people and a mechanism that would lead us to a solid political process," he said.

Vice President Joe Biden spoke Wednesday with parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, and they agreed on "the importance of Iraqis moving expeditiously to form a new government capable of uniting the country," the White House said.

However, White House officials acknowledged that those efforts were not meeting expectations. "Based on the fact that those leaders met yesterday, that they were urged to act promptly to form a new government, but they walked away without an agreement is an indication that that process is not off to a good start," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

In what appeared to be a bid to peel away some of the extremist group's allies among Iraq's Sunni community, al-Maliki offered an amnesty "for all tribes and people who got involved in any act against the state." He said the offer covers everyone, except those with blood on their hands.

He offered a similar amnesty after militants seized two central Iraqi cities early this year, but few if any Sunnis accepted.

The quick success of the Sunni militants — spearheaded by al-Baghdadi's group — has sent tremors across the region, particularly in neighboring Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Iran. The United States, which withdrew the last of its troops from Iraq in 2011, is also keeping close tabs on events.

President Barack Obama has been hesitant to send much military aid to Iraq for fear of dragging the U.S. into another long war. The White House has ruled out sending combat troops, but this week dispatched more soldiers to Baghdad to help bolster the U.S. Embassy. Officials say there are about 750 U.S. troops in Iraq — about half of which are advising Iraqi forces. U.S. manned and unmanned aircraft are also flying dozens of reconnaissance missions a day over Iraq to gather intelligence.

Meanwhile, Iraq is increasingly turning to other governments like Russia, Iran and Syria for help.

Iraqi air force commander Lt. Gen. Anwar Hama Amin told the AP a third batch of Russian-made Su-25 warplanes arrived in the country Wednesday, bringing the total delivered to 13. He said all 13 planes were second-hand aircraft purchased from Russia to help fight the insurgents.

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Karam reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Sinan Salaheddin, Sameer N. Yacoub and Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad and Julie Pace in Washington contributed to this report.

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Follow Ryan Lucas on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/relucasz